10 December 2022

‘Who are you really?’ – through Lent we see the answer lies in Christ 

Lent commences this week as Spring and a time for change begins. Picture: iStock

By The Reverend Dr Luke Hopkins 

28 February 2022

As we enter Lent, many parish churches across our diocese will suddenly be doing things a little differently. The way we worship and the way we use our spaces for worship are different compared to the rest of the year.  

For the most part, most things are the same. And yet, they’ve changed as well. Just different enough. Hopefully enough to jolt us a little. Hopefully enough for us to need to pay a little close attention, so that we’re not just going through motions. For some, we don’t sing the Gloria or the Alleluias during Lent, waiting for the great Alleluia of Easter. The decorative accents change to purple or rough sackcloth. We have some different responses and prayers. Icons and crosses may be covered over with hessian. Many of the candles and flowers may be taken away. Everything is stripped back a bit. The reason? Well, we can all become attached to particular ideas and images in our minds, so much so that they can replace the very thing they are meant to represent and call us forward to. As such, the stripping back of our liturgical items is an outward sign of the inner stripping that is meant to be going on during the season of Lent. 

Lent becomes a call to the church to become more truly herself. A time to remove some of the fluff and decoration that’s built up. A time to reassess the stories we often prefer to tell ourselves about ourselves. A time to see who we truly are underneath it all. Lent is an opportunity to reset the clock. A time to take inventory. A time to renew our own sense of commitment. A call to be genuine. 

Lent asks us: “Who are you really?” Not an easy question for many of us to answer, especially considering most of us prefer a kind of self-willed amnesia most of the time. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word genuine as “truly what something is said to be – authentic”. Seen in this light, Lent can become for us a call to authenticity. If we take up the opportunity provided (available all year round of course), this season can be reparative and restorative for us. This season provides an opportunity for us to come to grips with all the false images we have of God and of ourselves. It’s also time to confront the hurts we have done to ourselves and others, which is why it is preceded by Shrove Tuesday. “To shrive” is an old word meaning to confess and absolve. This is never comfortable. However, it is spiritually necessary. Lent is an opportunity to be reminded, in the words of Augustine of Hippo, that “The church is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners”. 

Our focus on Lent should not be a morbid obsession with making ourselves feel miserable in the hope of pleasing God. Instead, it should be a real fascination with the new life that has dawned in us and in the world through Christ’s death and resurrection. Lent leads us to Holy Week and Easter. It is a season for new growth. It is about coming home to God and, in so doing, becoming more at home with ourselves. As Archbishop Rowan Williams reminds us: “It’s important to remember that the word ‘Lent’ itself comes from the old English word for ‘spring’. It’s not about feeling gloomy for 40 days; it’s not about making yourself miserable for 40 days… [In the Northern hemisphere] Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death. And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.” 

The three traditional Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, are meant to deliberately focus our minds on becoming more authentically Christian. By fasting and other acts of self-denial, we learn self-control and let go of the cultural assertion that we are what we consume. Through charitable giving, we learn to avoid creating false priorities and realign ourselves to God’s priorities. Through prayer, in having some honest conversations with God, we humble ourselves and can come to realise that we are dependent on God’s grace. Through fasting, almsgiving and prayer we enter more deeply into the meaning of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. In these Lenten disciplines we also have the chance to discover more deeply who we truly are in Christ. They help us to become more authentically human, which is after all what it means to be Christian. For in Christ we see not only what God is really like, but we are also opened up to seeing what being truly human is like. 

Again and again in the Gospels, we see that Jesus will not betray or deny who He is. Ultimately, He is tortured and dies because He will not betray or deny who He is.  

Could the same be said of us? How do we truly discover who we are? The answer to that lies in Christ. 

The Reverend Dr Luke Hopkins is College Chaplain at Trinity College Melbourne. 

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